How to Sleep Outside Without a Tent

Cowboy camping is a unique experience
Cowboy camping is a unique experience

We’re willing to bet that everyone who enjoys camping has wanted to go cowboy camping at least once. Sleeping directly under the open sky without a tent has its allure and is definitely a unique experience (we haven’t forgotten our first time cowboy camping when we were 12 years old – it was magical). But is it really feasible? With the right items and mindset, definitely. Keep reading to learn how.

Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad

If you could only choose two items for your sleep outdoors, those would have to be the sleeping bag and the sleeping pad. These two are a true cheat code if you’re risking it all with no tent.

Choose a sleeping bag that is appropriate for the weather conditions you expect to face: always check the insulation and the temperature rating when buying it.

For the sleeping pad, make sure you’re buying one of high quality that provides good insulation from the cold ground and that increases your comfort.

BONUS: using a sleeping bag liner is also a great idea, as this adds warmth and keeps your sleeping bag clean.

Hammock Camping

You better use a mosquito net if you're hammock camping
You better use a mosquito net if you’re hammock camping

An exception to the cheat code of the sleeping bag and pad is if you’re planning to sleep on a hammock.

As you can see in the picture above, the hammock is a good versatile way to sleep outside without a tent and without a sleeping bag.

If you’re aiming for the hammock, you should choose a durable hammock and seriously consider also using a bug net or mosquito net for protection against insects. This will save you from a lot of mosquito bites.

Finally, if you don’t want to fall to the ground in the middle of the night, make sure you have a good tree cover and a reliable suspension system to set up your hammock securely.

Dealing with Weather

You should always be prepared for bad weather if you’re camping. If you’re cowboy camping without a tent, you should be extra prepared.

Here are some tips that have helped us throughout time:

  • Check the weather forecast before your camping trip and pack accordingly

  • Bring extra layers, a rain poncho, or a tarp for protection against rain and strong wind

  • In case of unexpected changes, find natural shelters nearby where you can stay for a while until the weather gets better

What About Wildlife?

While we’re currently also writing an article on what to do if a wild animal approaches your tent, if you’re cowboy camping, you need to be even more aware of your surroundings and the wildlife you can get in contact with while sleeping outdoors.

  • Use bug spray or other bug protection measures to ward off insects

  • Avoid camping near areas prone to wildlife encounters

  • Store food properly (in sealed containers) and maintain a clean campsite

Final Thoughts

While going cowboy camping requires preparation and caution, the rewards are unparalleled. Sleeping directly under the stars is something you’ll never forget, so we highly recommend you at least try it once in your life. As always, remember to abide by the Leave No Trace Principles.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can Sleeping Bags Be Used When Sleeping Outside Without a Tent?

If you’re cowboy camping, you’ll need sleeping bags for insulation and warmth. Make sure that your sleeping bag is suitable for the weather conditions, place a groundsheet or sleeping pad under it and consider using a bivy sack for more protection against nature.

How Can I Stay Warm While Cowboy Camping?

Wear appropriate clothing layers, including thermal wear if needed, and place an insulating sleeping pad under your sleeping bag to prevent any heat loss to the ground. You can also cover yourself partially with a tarp for even more warmth.

How Do I Deal With Leaf Litter or Debris When Setting Up a Sleep Area?

You should always clear the area where you plan to sleep from leaf litter or debris piles. Any sharp or uncomfortable objects will affect your sleep quality and completely ruin your experience.

Can I Use a Tent Wall Without Actually Using a Tent?

Yes, as a tent wall is different than a full tent. You should set one up using stakes or poles to act as a barrier against wind or light rain.

How Can I Fall Asleep Easily While Sleeping Outside Without a Tent?

The principles are the same as if you were inside a tent: 1) adopt a bedtime routine by winding down before going to sleep; 2) avoid screen time and instead read or stargaze; 3) bring earplugs or a sleep mask to block out noise and light.

What is the ‘Morning Shake’ And How Does It Help?

The ‘morning shake’ is great to remove any debris or moisture that may have accumulated overnight. It’s extremely useful and easy to do: just shake out your sleeping bad in the morning a couple of times and voila – you’re good to go.

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